Tag Archives: Myles Garrett

2017 AFC North Draft Grades

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Pittsburgh Steelers

First-Round Pick: T.J. Watt-Outside Linebacker-Wisconsin

Best Pick: T.J. Watt

Grade: A

No team in the history of the National Football League has won more Super Bowl Titles than the six in which the Pittsburgh Steelers possess, and the most recent edition of the NFL Draft illustrated why.

While some teams entered the National Football League Draft playing the guessing game as far as what they needed to do in order to improve their respective rosters, the Steelers stuck to their plan of bringing more talent to Western Pennsylvania while capitalizing on the mistakes of others.

T.J. Watt

The first round saw the Steelers have to wait until the 30th pick, but there they selected Wisconsin Badgers outside linebacker T.J. Watt. Watt is the younger brother of Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt and Los Angeles Chargers fullback Derek Watt. Just like his big brother who suits up for the Texans, T.J. is a freak of nature. Watt fills a need for the Steelers who have to improve their pass rush. Last year at Wisconsin, Watt recorded 11.5 sacks as a member of one of the stingiest defenses in college football, and his workman like attitude will be a welcome sight in Western Pennsylvania.

In the second round the Steelers were able to land USC Trojans wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster. At 6’1″, 215 lbs., Smith-Schuster gives the Steelers another red zone target for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and their prolific offense.

James Conner

The Steelers had two selections in the third round with one of those choices being used on Pittsburgh Panthers running back James Conner. The Steelers got a close look at Conner in college and they know all about his story. Conner was the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2014, while he would also overcome Hodgkin’s Lymphoma during his time at Pitt. Conner never gave up and his mental toughness fits the mold of being a Steeler.

The Steelers were close to getting to the Super Bowl last season, and this draft class can help to possibly make it a reality come February.

Baltimore Ravens

First-Round Pick: Marlon Humphrey-Cornerback-Alabama

Best Pick: Round Three-Tim Williams-Defensive End-Alabama

Grade: B-

It’s hard to believe, but three of the last four years have seen the Baltimore Ravens fail to make the playoffs. Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome has been attempting to get the Ravens back to being a consistent playoff contender as this draft could help to get Baltimore closer to that.

Marlon Humphrey

This draft saw the Ravens focus on getting back to their identity. In the first round the Ravens selected Alabama Crimson Tide cornerback Marlon Humphrey. With the Steelers currently being the team to beat in the AFC North, the Ravens need all of the help that they can get in their secondary in order to hang with Pittsburgh’s explosive offensive players.

After trading defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan to the Philadelphia Eagles, the Ravens had a pair of third round picks and they quickly found a replacement for Jernigan in Michigan Wolverines defensive tackle Chris Wormley. At 6’5″, Wormley should fit in to the Ravens scheme on their defensive line as they run the 3-4. Later in the third round Baltimore would peg one of Humphrey’s collegiate teammates in outside linebacker Tim Williams. Williams is an outside linebacker by trade, but he is extremely versatile which includes playing the run and pass well. And that versatility could make Williams a starter early on for the Ravens.

The fourth round saw the Ravens select San Diego State Aztecs guard Nico Siragusa. Siragusa is coming off of an All-American selection at San Diego State which included him opening holes for record setting running back Donnel Pumphrey. And after the Ravens were 28th in the National Football League last season in rushing, they need all of the help that they can get on the offensive line.

This draft class might not show up immediately for the Ravens, but they will be effective players.

Cincinnati Bengals

First-Round Pick: John Ross-Wide Receiver-Washington

Best Pick: Round Three-Jordan Willis-Defensive End-Kansas State

Grade: B

After the Cincinnati Bengals failed to make the playoffs last season for the first time since 2010, it was time for them to retool. The Bengals entered the National Football League Draft needing more speed at the wide receiver position and they got their money’s worth.

John Ross

In the first round the Bengals selected Washington Huskies wide receiver John Ross who set a record by running the fastest 40-yard dash time in the history of the National Football League Scouting Combine. Ross ran a 4.22 40-yard dash and his speed will now see him test the arm strength of Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton.

Joe Mixon

In the second round the Bengals would put themselves under the microscope by drafting Oklahoma Sooners running back Joe Mixon. Mixon entered this draft as one of the best play makers at the running back position; however most people have not been focused on that due to his past off-the-field issues. In 2014, Mixon was suspended by Oklahoma after he was arrested and charged with misdemeanor assault for allegedly hitting a woman. In 2015, Mixon would return to Oklahoma and become a key contributor to the Sooners winning 22 games over the last two college football seasons. But when video surfaced late in 2016 of Mixon hitting the woman during the 2014 incident, he was immediately taken off of some team’s draft boards. Now the Bengals must face the public backlash and if they and Mixon are able to get past that, he could be a very productive player for them.

Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis has always believed in stock piling pass rushers, and in a division with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, you can never have enough players who can put pressure on the quarterback. The third round saw Cincinnati select Kansas State Wildcats defensive end Jordan Willis. Willis comes to the Bengals as a very polished edge rusher. In 2016, Willis was the Big 12 Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year as he recorded 11.5 sacks. The Bengals didn’t stop there as in the fourth round they selected Auburn Tigers defensive end Carl Lawson. Lawson had the potential to be taken late in the first round, but questions about his durability saw his stock fall. Now Willis and Lawson can learn from veteran Bengals defensive ends Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson while also contributing on the field.

If the Bengals can stay healthy in 2017, they should once again be able to contend for a playoff spot.

Cleveland Browns

First-Round Pick: Myles Garrett-Defensive End-Texas A&M, Jabril Peppers-Safety-Michigan, David Njoku-Tight End-Miami

Best Pick: Myles Garrett

Grade: D

The Cleveland Browns had a real opportunity to reverse the fortunes of their franchise at the 2017 National Football League Draft. But it typical Browns fashion, they let that opportunity go by the wayside.

The Browns entered the draft in possession of the first overall pick which was almost impossible for even them to mess up. The Browns used that selection on Texas A&M Aggies defensive end Myles Garrett who has freakish pass rushing ability. But the biggest issue for Garrett is whether or not that he’ll get sucked into the Bermuda Triangle in which so many first-round picks of the Browns have gotten lost in. And after the selection of Garrett, it was completely downhill from there for the Browns.

The Browns owned the 12th overall pick and they were in need of a quarterback. However with North Carolina Tar Heels quarterback Mitch Trubisky having been drafted by the Chicago Bears, Clemson Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson was sitting there waiting for a phone call with area code 440 attached to it. Instead of taking Watson, the Browns made a trade with the Houston Texans who were poised to take Watson and make him their franchise quarterback. And as I’ve said before, the Browns will rue the day in which they passed on Watson as he is a proven winner which is what they need in their locker room.

Cleveland would make take two more selections in the first round as they pegged Michigan Wolverines strong safety Jabril Peppers 25th overall and Miami Hurricanes tight end David Njoku 29th overall. Peppers saw his draft stock fall as the result of a diluted sample at the Scouting Combine, while teams weren’t sure if he is a safety or an outside linebacker. Njoku was arguably the best athlete at the tight end position coming into the draft, but how much of an impact that he can with Cleveland remains to be seen.

After passing up on Watson, the Browns would then take Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer in the second round. Kizer had more uncertainty as far as his ability to be a professional quarterback than the three signal callers who were selected in the first round. Kizer is still very raw a passer which includes questions about his pocket awareness and ability to break down pro-style defenses as it appears to be simply another case of goofing up by the Browns.

Caleb Brantley

In the sixth round Cleveland would select Florida Gators defensive tackle Caleb Brantley who saw his draft stock diminish after he was accused of punching a woman last month to the point that the alleged victim required dental work. Brantley had second round potential, but most teams weren’t willing to touch him with a 10-foot pole after the allegations came out against him. The Browns contend that they can still release him based off of potential legal ramifications, but why put your franchise in that position in the first place?

Since the Browns re-entered the National Football League in 1999, they’ve only had two winning seasons. And after the Browns went 1-15 last season, they laid a complete egg at the draft as they will continue to be the whipping boys of the AFC North, along with being the laughing stock of the NFL.

Source: Cfbstats.com

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2017 NFL Mock Draft 4.0

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1. Cleveland Browns-Myles Garrett-Defensive End-Texas A&M

It will be very hard to mess up this selection, but nothing is impossible when it comes to futility for the Cleveland Browns.

2. San Francisco 49ers-Solomon Thomas-Defensive End-Stanford

Offense sells tickets and wins games, but defense wins championships. New 49ers general manager John Lynch is a defensive minded guy and where better for him to find his first draft selection than right up the road at his alma mater.

3. Chicago Bears-Jamal Adams-Strong Safety-LSU

There are several directions in which the Bears can go here, but they need an enforcer in their secondary.

Leonard Fournette

4. Jacksonville Jaguars-Leonard Fournette-Running Back-LSU

The best way for the Jaguars to protect quarterback Blake Bortles is to put more play makers around him, and it starts by improving the running game.

5. Tennessee Titans (via the Los Angeles Rams)-Malik Hooker-Free Safety-Ohio State

With a pair of first round picks at the Tennessee Titans disposal, this is a golden opportunity for them to stockpile play makers.

6. New York Jets-Marshon Lattimore-Cornerback-Ohio State

There are several directions in which the Jets can go here which includes making a trade. However the Jets do need help in their secondary.

7. Los Angeles Chargers-Ryan Ramczyk-Offensive Tackle-Wisconsin

Quarterback Philip Rivers isn’t getting any younger and the Chargers must do everything in their power to protect him.

Christian McCaffrey

8. Carolina Panthers-Christian McCaffrey-Running Back-Stanford

For the Carolina Panthers to get back to being a playoff team, they must go back to the basics which means concentrating on their rushing attack.

9. Cincinnati Bengals-Reuben Foster-Inside Linebacker-Alabama

If ever there a was a team who would take a first-round flyer on a guy who failed a drug test, it is the Bengals.

10. Buffalo Bills-Haason Reddick-Outside Linebacker-Temple

The Bills are looking up at the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins in the AFC East who are both loaded at the skill positions on offense which means that they must get more athletic on defense.

11. New Orleans Saints-Derek Barnett-Defensive End-Tennessee

If the Saints take care of their business at the draft which means fixing their defense, they could be a playoff team for the upcoming season.

12. Cleveland Browns (via the Philadelphia Eagles)-Mitch Trubisky-Quarterback-North Carolina

Quarterback Deshaun Watson makes more sense here, but the Browns like Mitch Trubisky.

13. Arizona Cardinals-Mike Williams-Wide Receiver-Clemson

With wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald getting up their in age and the Cardinals second leading pass catcher last season being running back David Johnson, they must improve their vertical offense.

14. Philadelphia Eagles (via the Minnesota Vikings)-Dalvin Cook-Running Back-Florida State

Last  year the Eagles got their franchise quarterback in Carson Wentz and this off-season has seen them stockpiling play makers for him to get the football to.

O.J. Howard

15. Indianapolis Colts-O.J. Howard-Tight End-Alabama

The Colts have already traded tight end Dwayne Allen this off-season to the Patriots and they need to get some help on offense for quarterback Andrew Luck.

16. Baltimore Ravens-Jonathan Allen-Defensive Tackle-Alabama

Jonathan Allen has the talent to be a top-five pick, but if he falls this far it would be a steal for the Baltimore Ravens.

17. Washington Redskins-Corey Davis-Wide Receiver-Western Michigan

For the second consecutive year the Redskins slapped the franchise tag on quarterback Kirk Cousins. But after the Redskins let their two top wide receivers leave in free agency, they need to keep Cousins happy.

18. Tennessee Titans-T.J. Watt-Outside Linebacker-Wisconsin

If T.J. Watt is half as good as his older brother in Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, the Titans will be a force to be reckoned with for the upcoming NFL season.

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers-Taco Charlton-Defensive End-Michigan

If the Buccaneers want to be legitimate threat to win the NFC South here in 2017, they are going to have to upgrade their pass rush in a division that is littered with Pro Bowl caliber quarterbacks.

20. Denver Broncos-David Njoku-Tight End-Miami

It’s still unsure whether it will be Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch that will be under center for the Broncos when the season begins, but they need to upgrade the tight end position where they hardly got any production from last year.

21. Detroit Lions-Charles Harris-Defensive End-Missouri

The Lions only managed to get 26 sacks in 2016 and they still managed to be a playoff team. But that won’t cut it once again.

22. Miami Dolphins-Kevin King-Cornerback-Washington

If the Dolphins want to overtake the Patriots for the top spot in the AFC East, they need to find a way to neutralize all of their talent at the skill positions.

Malik McDowell

23. New York Giants-Malik McDowell-Defensive Tackle-Michigan State

After the Giants lost defensive tackle Jonathan Hankins in free agency to the Colts, this is a no-brainer here.

24. Oakland Raiders-Chidobe Awuzie-Cornerback-Colorado

The Raiders secondary was exposed last season when quarterback Derek Carr suffered a fractured fibula. And if this organization wants to be a legit Super Bowl contender, they are going to have to find a way to slow down opposing offenses via the pass.

25. Houston Texans-Deshaun Watson-Quarterback-Clemson

If the Browns screw it up and pass on Deshaun Watson, the Texans won’t be as foolish.

Garett Bolles

26. Seattle Seahawks-Garett Bolles-Offensive Tackle-Utah

Over the last two years Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has been sacked 86 times which isn’t going to cut it if they want to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

27- Kansas City Chiefs-John Ross-Wide Receiver-Washington

After hardly getting any production from their wide receivers in 2016, the Chiefs need to get more speed on the outside.

28. Dallas Cowboys-Takkarist McKinley-Outside Linebacker-UCLA

The Cowboys currently possess a Super Bowl offense, but they are lacking play makers on the defensive side of the football.

29. Green Bay Packers-Marlon Humphrey-Cornerback-Alabama

In the Packers playoff loss to the Atlanta Falcons, their secondary had it handed to them which is all that you need to know.

30-Pittsburgh Steelers-Zach Cunningham-Outside Linebacker-Vanderbilt

Zach Cunningham fits the mold of a Steelers linebacker as he possesses size, athleticism, toughness, speed, and a knack for making big plays.

31. Atlanta Falcons-Forrest Lamp-Guard-Western Kentucky

Forrest Lamp gives the Falcons a versatile presence on their offensive line and he’ll be a starter from his first day.

Adoree Jackson

32. New Orleans Saints (via the New England Patriots)-Adoree jackson-Cornerback-USC

A few years from now we could be looking at the trade which sent wide receiver Brandin Cooks to the Patriots as the deal that got the Saints back to the Super Bowl if Adoree Jackson pans out here.

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2017 NFL Mock Draft 3.0

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1. Cleveland Browns-Myles Garrett-Defensive End-Texas A&M

The Cleveland Browns could mess this up, but at some point common sense has to kick in.

2. San Francisco 49ers-Solomon Thomas-Defensive End-Stanford

There are several directions in which the 49ers could go here, but they need more play makers on their defensive line

3. Chicago Bears-Jamal Adams-Strong Safety-LSU

If the Chicago Bears are hopeful for a quick turnaround in 2017, they are going to have to go through the Green Bay Packers and quarterback Aaron Rodgers which means that they are going to have to beef up the secondary.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars-Leonard Fournette-Running Back-LSU

The Jaguars are in the business of improving the team around quarterback Blake Bortles which means that the running game is a top priority.

5. Tennessee Titans-Malik Hooker-Free Safety-Ohio State

The Titans are just one or two play makers away from being the team to beat in the AFC South. And the addition of Malik Hooker will get Tennessee closer to that goal.

Mitch Trubisky

6. New York Jets-Mitch Trubisky-Quarterback-North Carolina

The Jets could go quarterback here which would mean that they are giving up on quarterbacks Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenburg.

7. Los Angeles Chargers-Jabril Peppers-Strong Safety-Michigan

Jabril Peppers could be the ultimate wild card in the National Football League Draft as he could be selected anywhere from 5-25 in the first round.

8. Carolina Panthers-Dalvin Cook-Running Back-Florida State

When the Panthers were one of the top teams in the NFL in 2015, their bread and butter was the running game which they need to get back to.

9. Cincinnati Bengals-Derek Barnett-Defensive End-Tennessee

Under head coach Marvin Lewis, the Bengals have always had a litany of athletes on their defensive line which continues here with the addition of Derek Barnett.

10. Buffalo Bills-Marshon Lattimore-Cornerback-Ohio State

For the Buffalo Bills to assert themselves as a playoff team in 2017, they are going to have to go through the New England Patriots in the AFC East which means having as many athletes as possible in their secondary.

11. New Orleans Saints-Haason Reddick-Outside Linebacker-Temple

The Saints already have one of the top offenses in the National Football League, and now it is time to develop a complimentary defense.

Deshaun Watson

12. Cleveland Browns-Deshaun Watson-Quarterback-Clemson

Just like if the Browns avoid taking Myles Garrett, they will regret not taking Deshaun Watson here because he is a winner.

13. Arizona Cardinals-Corey Davis-Wide Receiver-Western Michigan

After wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald had 1,023 receiving yards, J.J. Nelson was the next closest wide receiver on the Cardinals with just 568 yards which means that they need to get more players that can stretch the field.

14. Philadelphia Eagles-Christian McCaffrey-Running Back-Stanford

With running back Darren Sproles being 33-years of age, the Philadelphia Eagles need another versatile running back who can fill that void.

15. Indianapolis Colts-O.J. Howard-Tight End-Alabama

The Colts need to get more play makers around quarterback Andrew Luck and a tight end such as O.J. Howard who is theoretically a big wide receiver could help that process.

16. Baltimore Ravens-Jonathan Allen-Defensive Tackle-Alabama

If Jonathan Allen falls this far, he would come into the NFL with a chip on his shoulder, and he would join an organization that knows how to win.

17. Washington Redskins-Mike Williams-Wide Receiver-Clemson

After allowing wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon to leave in the free agency, the Washington Redskins must do everything possible to keep quarterback Kirk Cousins happy.

18. Tennessee Titans-John Ross-Wide Receiver-Washington

As the Titans have one of the top rushing attacks in the NFL, they need a burner at the wide receiver position that can stretch the field on play action.

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers-Reuben Foster-Inside Linebacker-Alabama

If the Buccaneers are going to be a legitimate playoff contender in 2017, they are going to need more leaders on the defensive side of the football.

20. Denver Broncos-David Njoku-Tight End-Miami

As the Denver Broncos hardly got any production out of the tight end position in 2016, they need to improve there regardless of whether it will be Trevor Semian or Paxton Lynch under center this year.

Taco Charlton

21. Detroit Lions-Taco Charlton-Defensive End-Michigan

After the Detroit Lions only registered 26 sacks last season, they need all of the help that they can get on their defensive line.

22. Miami Dolphins-Charles Harris-Defensive End-Missouri

If the Miami Dolphins are serious about pushing the Patriots for supremacy in the AFC East, they need as many pass rushers as possible in order to slow down quarterback Tom Brady.

23. New York Giants-Malik McDowell-Defensive Tackle

After the Giants recently lost defensive tackle Jonathan Hankins in free agency to the Colts, this is a no-brainer selection here for general manager Jerry Reese.

24. Oakland Raiders-Marlon Humphrey-Cornerback-Alabama

After watching the Raiders secondary once quarterback Derek Carr got injured last year, they need all the help that they can get.

Patrick Mahomes II

25. Houston Texans-Patrick Mahomes II-Quarterback-Texas Tech

The Texans thought that they were going to get quarterback Tony Romo which led them to trading quarterback Brock Osweiler to the Browns. But when Romo decided on retirement, it changed the thought process in Houston.

26. Seattle Seahawks-Ryan Ramczyk-Offensive Tackle-Wisconsin

As quarterback Russell Wilson was sacked 41 times last year, it is not a recipe for good things if the Seahawks want to be a legit title contender once again.

27. Kansas City Chiefs-Forrest Lamp-Guard-Western Kentucky

The Chiefs have several needs as they enter the NFL Draft, but Forrest Lamp is simply too good for them to pass up on.

Carl Lawson

28. Dallas Cowboys-Carl Lawson-Defensive End-Auburn

Ever since the Cowboys released defensive end DeMarcus Ware in 2014, they have lacked a quality edge rusher which has prevented them from being a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

29. Green Bay Packers-Tre’Davious White-Cornerback-LSU

After the Packers were lit up in the NFC Championship Game against the Atlanta Falcons, the secondary will be a top priority for them in the draft.

30. Pittsburgh Steelers-Zach Cunningham-Outside Linebacker-Vanderbilt

If you watched Zach Cunningham play in college, he is prototypical Steeler linebacker.

31. Atlanta Falcons-Garrett Bolles-Offensive Tackle-Utah

Whereas quarterback Matt Ryan was sacked 37 times last year, the Falcons are going to have to give him more protection if they want to get back to the Super Bowl.

32. New Orleans Saints-Kevin King-Cornerback-Washington

If the Saints fix their defense in this draft, they could be a playoff team this season.

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2017 NFL Mock Draft 2.0

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1. Cleveland Browns-Myles Garrett-Defensive End Texas A&M

Entering the 2017 National Football League Draft, Myles Garrett is the best player available which makes this an easy selection for the Browns.

2. San Francisco 49ers-Jonathan Allen-Defensive Tackle-Alabama

The Niners need a quarterback, but they get a value pick in Jonathan Allen while still having the ability to address that issue later in the draft.

3. Chicago Bears-Jamal Adams-Strong Safety-LSU

In a division that features quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford, the Bears must get better in their secondary.

Dalvin Cook

4. Jacksonville Jaguars-Dalvin Cook-Running Back-Florida State

As the Jaguars leading rusher last season was T.J. Yeldon with just 465 yards. And with Tom Coughlin entrenched as the Jags executive vice president of football operations, Jacksonville will be a better running team by hook or by crook.

5. Tennessee Titans (from Los Angeles Rams)-Solomon Thomas-Defensive End-Stanford

The Titans are on the verge of being a playoff team and it’s time to get defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau some more play makers.

6. New York Jets-Marshon Lattimore-Cornerback-Ohio State

The Jets can go in several directions with this selection, but their safest choice could be cornerback.

Jabril Peppers

7. Los Angeles Chargers-Jabril Peppers-Strong Safety-Michigan

Not since the days of Rodney Harrison have the Chargers had an enforcer in their secondary which could change if they draft Jabril Peppers.

8. Carolina Panthers-Leonard Fournette-Running Back-LSU

The Panthers took a huge step backwards in 2016, and in order for them to resemble the team that went 15-1 in 2015, they have to get back to the basics which means a power rushing attack.

9. Cincinnati Bengals-Ryan Ramczyk-Offensive Tackle-Wisconsin

After allowing veteran offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth to leave in free agency, the Bengals need to get more athletic on their offensive line.

10. Buffalo Bills-Marlon Humphrey-Cornerback-Alabama

New Bills head coach Sean McDermott is a defensive minded coach. And after Buffalo allowed cornerback Stephon Gilmore to leave in free agency, this is a chance for them to address that void.

11. New Orleans Saints-Malik Hooker-Free Safety-Ohio State

If the Saints are going to squeeze another title run out of quarterback Drew Brees, they must assemble a defense that can stop opponents.

Deshaun Watson

12. Cleveland Browns (From Philadelphia Eagles)-Deshaun Watson-Quarterback-Clemson

With the luxury of two, first-round picks the Browns can get the best player available along with their franchise quarterback.

13. Arizona Cardinals-Reuben Foster-Inside Linebacker-Alabama

As the Cardinals are looking to bounce back in 2017, the first thing that they need is a leader on the defensive side of the football.

14. Philadelphia Eagles (From Minnesota Vikings)-Derek Barnett-Defensive End-Tennessee

Eagles head coach Doug Pederson is working on getting this team back to what it was during the 2000’s which was being a consistent playoff team, and a defensive end like Derek Barnett who can wreak havoc is a step in that direction.

15. Indianapolis Colts-Corey Davis-Wide Receiver-Western Michigan

The Colts have a new general manager in Chris Ballard and it is time for this organization to put more talent around quarterback Andrew Luck.

16. Baltimore Ravens-Zach Cunningham-Outside Linebacker-Vanderbilt

The Ravens have always been an organization that is known for defense and player like Cunningham plays with a nasty disposition.

17. Washington Redskins-Mike Williams-Wide Receiver-Clemson

After the Redskins allowed wide receivers Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson to walk in free agency, this is an opportunity to keep quarterback Kirk Cousins happy.

18. Tennessee Titans-John Ross-Wide Receiver-Washington

The Titans love to run the football and a burner like John Ross could be dangerous off of play action.

Christian McCaffrey

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers-Christian McCaffrey-Running Back-Stanford

The Buccaneers front office is showing that they are serious as far as putting a team around quarterback Jameis Winston and here they would get one of the best play makers in the draft.

20. Denver Broncos-O.J. Howard-Tight End-Alabama

The Broncos still have questions at the quarterback position, but bringing in a solid pass-catching tight end will benefit whoever is taking the snaps.

21. Detroit Lions-Taco Charlton-Defensive End-Michigan

As a team the Lions only had 26 sacks last year with no player accumulating more than 8 which makes selecting Taco Charlton here a no-brainer.

22. Miami Dolphins-Obi Melifonwu-Strong Safety-Connecticut

As the Dolphins continue to bring in play makers on the defensive side of the football, they’ll be out to show that their playoff run last year wasn’t a fluke.

23. New York Giants-Cam Robinson-Offensive Tackle-Alabama

There are several directions in which the Giants can go here, but it might be time for them to move Ereck Flowers to right tackle.

24. Oakland Raiders-TreDavious White-Cornerback-LSU

When quarterback Derek Carr suffered a fractured fibula last year, the Raiders secondary got exposed when the offense wasn’t putting up 30 points per game anymore.

25. Houston Texans-Forrest Lamp-Guard-Western Kentucky

The Texans already have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, and it could get better here by adding Forrest Lamp.

26. Seattle Seahawks-Garrett Bolles-Offensive Tackle-Utah

Last year Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was sacked 41 times and that isn’t going to cut it if Seattle wants to get back to the Super Bowl.

27. Kansas City Chiefs-Curtis Samuel-Wide Receiver-Ohio State

In 2016, the Chiefs didn’t have a wide receiver gain 600 yards as they need explosiveness at the position in order to take some attention off of tight end Travis Kelce.

28. Dallas Cowboys-Charles Harris-Defensive End-Missouri

The Dallas Cowboys have everything on offense to be a Super Bowl contender, but until they can improve their pass rush, it won’t mean a thing.

29. Green Bay Packers-Malik McDowell-Defensive Tackle-Michigan State

In three playoff games last season the Packers surrendered 88 points as quarterback Aaron Rodgers cannot bail them out all of the time.

Tim Williams

30. Pittsburgh Steelers-Tim Williams-Outside Linebacker-Alabama

Tim Williams could be the steal of the first round as he goes to a team in the Steelers that loves to have versatile linebackers.

31. Atlanta Falcons-Takkarist McKinley-Outside Linebacker-UCLA

The Falcons had a solid defense in 2016, but after watching the fourth quarter of Super Bowl 51, it is clear that they need more pass rushers.

32. New Orleans Saints (From New England Patriots)-Carl Lawson-Defensive End-Auburn

If the Saints are able to fix their defense, a trip to the postseason is very likely here in 2017.

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2017 NFL Mock Draft 1.0

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1. Cleveland Browns Myles Garrett-Defensive End-Texas A&M

The Cleveland Browns have a ton of needs heading into the National Football League Draft, and a good place to start is to pick the best player that will be available.

 

Mitch Trubisky

2. San Francisco 49ers- Mitch Trubisky-Quarterback-North Carolina

The San Francisco 49ers are set to begin life with a new general manager in John Lynch, and a new head coach in Kyle Shanahan as it only makes sense for them to find a new franchise quarterback as well.

3. Chicago Bears-Jonathan Allen-Defensive Tackle-Alabama

In order for the Chicago Bears to once again be a player in the NFC North, they are going to have to get tougher in the trenches.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars-Dalvin Cook-Running Back-Florida State

In 2016, the Jacksonville Jaguars leading rusher was running back T.J. Yeldon with just 465 which is all that you’ll need to know why they must select a running back here.

5. Tennessee Titans-Solomon Thomas-Defensive End-Stanford

The Tennessee Titans are on the cusp of being the team to beat in the AFC South. And with Dick LeBeau as the Titans defensive coordinator, it’s time to stockpile up on versatile edge rushers.

6. New York Jets-Marshon Lattimore-Cornerback-Ohio State

There are numerous ways that the New York Jets can go with this selection. But with an aging Darrelle Revis at cornerback, the Jets must get younger in the secondary.

7. Los Angeles Chargers-Malik Hooker-Free Safety-Ohio State

2016 saw the Los Angeles Chargers go out of their way to lose games, and a turnaround begins with solidifying the secondary.

 

Leonard Fournette

8. Carolina Panthers- Leonard Fourtnette-Running Back-LSU

The Carolina Panthers love to run the football which is something that they got away from last year. But it won’t take the Panthers that long to get back to what won them the NFC Championship in 2015.

9. Cincinnati Bengals-Mike Williams-Wide Receiver-Clemson

Injuries have taken away from the effectiveness of wide receiver A.J. Green, and it’s time for the Cincinnati Bengals to add some depth at the position.

10. Buffalo Bills-DeShone Kizer-Quarterback-Notre Dame

This selection will signal the end of Tyrod Taylor’s time with the Buffalo Bills.

11. New Orleans Saints-Zach Cunningham-Outside Linebacker-Vanderbilt

The NFC South is littered with quality quarterbacks, and if the New Orleans Saints are going to get to the playoffs for the first time since 2013, they are going to need more pass rushers.

12. Cleveland Browns-Reuben Foster-Inside Linebacker-Alabama

Browns head coach Hue Jackson is looking to change the culture within his locker room. And what a better way to begin that process than by bringing in a player such as Reuben Foster who is a winner.

13. Arizona Cardinals-Ryan Ramczyk-Offensive Tackle-Wisconsin

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer was sacked 40 times last year. And if the Cardinals are going to entertain any chances of making the Super Bowl, they must protect Palmer.

14. Indianapolis Colts-Cam Robinson-Offensive Tackle-Alabama

For too long the Indianapolis Colts organization has asked quarterback Andrew Luck to do too much by himself. Luck is one of the better play makers in the NFL, but he needs protection in front of him.

15. Philadelphia Eagles-Teez Tabor-Cornerback-Florida

In a division with wide receivers such as Dez Bryant, Odell Beckham Jr., and DeSean Jackson, the Philadelphia Eagles need as many athletes as possible in their secondary.

16. Baltimore Ravens-Derek Barnett-Defensive End-Tennessee

When the Baltimore Ravens are at their best, they are rushing the passer.

17. Washington Redskins-Jamal Adams-Strong Safety-LSU

Last season the Washington Redskins were 25th in the NFL in pass defense as they need a play maker in their secondary.

 

Jabril Peppers

18. Tennessee Titans-Jabril Peppers-Strong Safety-Michigan

Don’t expect the Titans to be pushed around defensively in 2017.

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers-O.J. Howard-Tight End-Alabama

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have their franchise quarterback as they are continuing the process of putting quality players around him at the skill positions.

20. Denver Broncos-Christian McCaffrey-Running Back-Stanford

For many years wide receiver Ed McCaffrey was one of the go-to guys for quarterback John Elway with the Denver Broncos. And with Elway now serving as the Broncos executive vice president of football operations, he’ll find another play maker from Stanford who’ll make a huge impact in Denver.

21. Detroit Lions-Taco Charlton-Defensive End-Michigan

Last year the Detroit Lions only managed to register 26 sacks, and if they’re going to overtake the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North, they must find a way to get to quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

22. Miami Dolphins-David Njoku-Tight End-Miami

David Njoku won’t spend that much money on moving expenses as he’ll just move to another locker room at Hard Rock Stadium.

23. New York Giants-Carl Lawson-Defensive End-Auburn

Just in case that the New York Giants don’t re-sign defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, they’ll get themselves some insurance.

24. Oakland Raiders-Marlon Humphrey-Cornerback-Alabama

The Oakland Raiders issues in their secondary were exposed when quarterback Derek Carr suffered a fractured fibula. And if the Raiders are going to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender, they must improve the secondary.

25. Houston Texans-Takkarist McKinley-Outside Linebacker-UCLA

If the Houston Texans can get themselves a quality veteran quarterback, they’ll have a championship caliber defense to pair him with.

26. Seattle Seahawks-Garrett Bolles-Offensive Tackle-Utah

The Seattle Seahawks don’t resemble the team that won the Super Bowl in 2013. And for the Seahawks to get back to being a championship team, they are going to have to run the football more effectively, while also protecting quarterback Russell Wilson which begins with better play on the offensive line.

27. Kansas City Chiefs-Corey Davis-Wide Receiver-Western Michigan

There is a huge drop off in the passing offense of the Kansas City Chiefs once you eliminate tight end Travis Kelce from the equation as they need some more production from the wide receiver position.

28. Dallas Cowboys-Charles Harris-Defensive End-Missouri

The Dallas Cowboys were 14th in the NFL last year in total defense, but through injuries and suspensions, they lacked a game changing edge rusher.

 

Desmond King

29. Green Bay Packers-Desmond King-Cornerback-Iowa

With the issues that the Green Bay Packers had in their secondary last season, they could use a tough minded player in the unit who can also contribute on special teams if asked to.

30. Pittsburgh Steelers-Tim Williams-Outside Linebacker-Alabama

Bud Dupree has begun to show flashes as a quality edge rusher for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but this team needs a versatile enforcer for the unit.

31. Atlanta Falcons-Evan engram-Tight End-Ole Miss

As good as the Atlanta Falcons offense is, they still need a tight end who can take some pressure off of wide receiver Julio Jones.

32. New England Patriots- Dan Feeney-Guard-Indiana

The rich get richer as the defending Super Bowl Champions will continue to add depth on the offensive line in front of quarterback Tom Brady.

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2016 Southeastern Conference Football Projections

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East

Tennessee Volunteers 10-3 (6-2)

In a very short time Tennessee Volunteers head football coach Butch Jones has gotten his program back to respectability. Jones is coming off of his third year in Knoxville and last season he led Tennessee to their first 9-win season since 2007. But can Jones do something that hasn’t happened since 2007 which is to get the Volunteers to the Southeastern Conference Championship Game?

This year’s Tennessee squad has arguably the most experience in the Southeastern Conference as they have 10 returning starters on offense and 8 on defense. Senior Joshua Dobbs is in his fourth year as the Volunteers starting quarterback and his play has improved in each year. Dobbs has also shown the qualities to be a leader on the field for the Vols. As Tennessee has one of the bigger and more physical offensive lines in the SEC that features senior right guard Dylan Wiesman, they can lean on opponents with their running game. Junior running back Jalen Hurd nearly rushed for 1,300 yards last year and he is looking to add to the program’s long history at running back which includes the likes of Jamal Lewis and Arian Foster.

Jaylen Reeves-Maybin

Defensively the Vols were ranked 36th in the nation last year in total defense and there are players on the unit that have potential to play in the National Football League. Senior outside linebacker Jaylen Reeves-Maybin led the Volunteers in tackles last season with 105 and he has the potential to be an All-SEC player here in 2016. Junior defensive end Derek Barnett has the potential to hear his name called very early at next year’s NFL Draft as he is a solid edge rusher that offenses in the SEC must constantly account for. And if Tennessee’s front seven isn’t enough to deal with, they also have an opportunistic secondary that had 12 interceptions last year with 3 coming from junior free safety Todd Kelly Jr.

 

Last year all four of Tennessee’s losses came by four points or less and if Jones is able to remedy that, he will have a team on his hands that is worthy to win the Southeastern Conference.

Georgia Bulldogs 9-3 (6-2)

During Mark Richt’s 15 years as the head football coach of the Georgia Bulldogs, all he did was win. Richt comprised a record of 145-53 at Georgia which included a pair of Southeastern Conference Championships and nine years in which his team won at least 10 games. But all of that success wasn’t enough for Richt to maintain his job due to to the fact that he didn’t win enough big games. Richt has been replaced by former Alabama Crimson Tide defensive coordinator Kirby Smart who will have some lofty expectations to live up during his first go round as a head football coach.

Under Richt, Georgia had one of the best rushing games in the nation as they were a pipeline to the National Football League. That won’t change this year with the combination of junior running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel as each player has the potential to gain 1,000 yards rushing if they are healthy. Senior quarterback Grayson Lambert has had an up and down collegiate career that began with the Virginia Cavaliers. But as long as Lambert can keep it simple and not try to win games by himself, he and the Bulldogs should be able to enjoy a good year.

Mel Tucker is beginning his first year as Georgia’s defensive coordinator and he is inheriting a defense that was seventh in the nation last season in total defense. The Dawgs will have to replace some talent in their front seven, but the strength of this defense is in the secondary where all four starters from 2015 are back. Safety Dominic Sanders led the team in interceptions last year with 6, and here in his junior campaign, he should be in the conversation to win the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back, while also gaining a ton of attention from the National Football League scouts.

Kirby Smart

Smart is adding his own touch to Georgia’s program and he should have the Bulldogs right in the mix to win the Eastern Division of the Southeastern Conference.

Florida Gators 8-4 (5-3)

It didn’t take Florida Gators head football Jim McElwain that long to get his program back to respectability. In one year at the helm at Florida, McElwain was able to get the Gators to the Southeastern Conference Championship Game for the first time since 2009. But will McElwain be able to do something that hasn’t happened in Gainesville since the 2000’s which is to make the Gators consistent? The Gators have not finished consecutive seasons in the top 25 of the Associated Press Poll since 2009 while they’ve been an up and down program since then. And after winning the SEC East in 2015, the other six teams within the division will gunning for Florida this year.

One of the biggest things that has been holding Florida back in recent years is the fact that they have struggled mightily on offense. Last year Florida was 112th in total offense which makes the fact that they were able to win 10 games that more remarkable. McElwain is offensive coach that was able to make adjustments to his team during his first year at Florida, but he must find more consistent play at quarterback. Last year saw Treon Harris thrust into a tough situation as he was asked to be a pocket passer in spite of the fact that he came to Florida as a spread option quarterback under former Gators head football coach Will Muschamp.

Luke Del Rio

Sophomore quarterback Luke Del Rio transferred to Florida and he is more capable to run McElwain’s pro-style offense which makes him the favorite to start under center for the Gators when the season begins. The Gators still don’t have the explosion in the passing game that made them a national power during the 1990’s and 2000’s, but Del Rio will be protected by an offensive line that is returning four starters from last year.

In recent years the Florida defense has carried this team as they were eighth in the nation last year in total defense. And just like last year, the Gators have talent on that side of the football which will soon be coming to a National Football League City near you. Junior outside linebacker Jarrad Davis can tackle anything that moves and junior cornerback Jalen Tabor is one of the best cover guys in the Southeastern Conference.

Florida should once again be in the mix to qualify for the Southeastern Conference Championship Game, but all of that will come down to their meetings with the Tennessee Volunteers and the Georgia Bulldogs.

Kentucky Wildcats 6-6 (3-5)

The past two years have seen the Kentucky Wildcats go 5-7 and they appear to be on the cusp of becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 2010. Last year saw the Wildcats lose three Southeastern Conference games by five points or less. And as Kentucky head football coach Mark Stoops is set to begin his fourth year in Lexington, a trip to a bowl game could make him a very popular mean within the Commonwealth State.

Drew Barker

Last year as a freshman, quarterback Drew Barker was able to get some brief experience under center, and now in 2016 as a sophomore, he will be the guy for the Wildcats offense. But one of the main keys for Kentucky will be whether or not that junior running back Stanley “Boom” Williams will be able to gain at least 1,000 yards as that would be the symbol of the Wildcats success. The Wildcats have an experienced offensive line that has four junior starters and one senior in center Jon Toth.

Stoops’ specialty is defensive football which he has been unable to bring to Lexington and the Wildcats will be fighting an uphill battle on that side of the football due to the fact that they have a ton of experience to replace on that side of the football from last year’s team.

Kentucky won’t be able to dodge some of the heavyweights that the Southeastern Conference has to offer as they’ll tango with the Tennessee Volunteers, Georgia Bulldogs, and Alabama Crimson Tide. But if the Wildcats are able to handle their business against the teams that they should beat, they should be able to receive the bowl invite that has eluded them for more than five years.

Missouri Tigers 6-6 (3-5)

In the four years that the Missouri Tigers have been a member of the Southeastern Conference, it has been either feast or famine for them. 2012 saw Missouri go 5-7, while they would win the SEC East in 2013 and 2014. Last year the Tigers once again went 5-7 and it marked the end of the line for Gary Pinkel as Missouri’s head football coach as he decided to retire. Pinkel’s successor in Columbia is a Missouri lifer in Barry Odom. Odom was a linebacker at Missouri from 1996-1999, and he has also been an assistant coach there since 2003. Since 2012, Odom was the Tigers defensive coordinator and he oversaw a unit that has sent its fair share of players to the National Football League in recent years. But now Odom is the guy that is in charge of this program and he doesn’t want his team to get caught up in the wash that is the SEC.

Drew Lock

With Missouri’s struggles as a team last year, quarterback Drew Lock gained valuable playing time as a freshman that should translate to something positive for him and the Tigers here in 2016. But Lock will have to carry a Mizzou offense that was 125th in total offense last year.

However as bad as Missouri’s offense was, their defense kept them in games as they were sixth in the nation in total defense. And the Tigers have some key players in senior middle linebacker Michael Scherer, junior defensive end Michael Harris, and sophomore defensive end Walter Brady that have the potential to be the best at their respective positions in the Southeastern Conference.

Just like last year the defense will carry the Tigers. But as the season progresses, this will be a team that nobody in the Southeastern Conference will want to face.

South Carolina Gamecocks 4-8 (1-7)

It’s hard to believe, but the South Carolina Gamecocks will enter the 2016 college football season on the heels of their first losing season since 2003. The Gamecocks went 3-9 last year in what would be Steve Spurrier’s last year as South Carolina’s head football coach. In nearly 11 years in Columbia, Spurrier was able to build off of the transition that had begun under former head football coach Lou Holtz as he turned the Gamecocks into a national power which included winning the Eastern Division of the Southeastern Conference in 2010, while also having three consecutive top ten finishes in the Associated Press Poll. Now it is up to Will Muschamp build off of what Holtz and Spurrier were able to do at South Carolina.

Will Muschamp

Before Muschamp became the head football coach at South Carolina, he enjoyed several stints in the Southeastern Conference as a defensive coordinator for the likes of the Auburn Tigers and LSU Tigers. But Muschamp’s most notable venture within the SEC came as the head football coach of the Florida Gators where he compiled a record of 28-21 in four years. The expectations at South Carolina for Muschamp won’t be as high as they were for him at Florida which should benefit him and his program.

Being that South Carolina was 3-9 last year, there isn’t a ton of returning talent for Muschamp to work with as he’ll turn to a true freshman at quarterback in Brandon McIlwain. Senior middle linebacker Skai Moore will definitely garner some interest from the National Football League as he is one of the best overall linebackers in the Southeastern Conference. Moore has knowledge of his position as well as the other defensive positions, while he led South Carolina in tackles with 111 and interceptions (4) last year.

This year will definitely be a struggle for the Gamecocks, but as the season progresses, Muschamp will begin to put his stamp on this program.

Vanderbilt Commodores 3-9 (1-7)

It’s been a tough go for Derek Mason as the head football coach of the Vanderbilt Commodores. In two years at Vanderbilt, Mason has won seven games compared to the nine games that were won by James Franklin in his final year with the Commodores in 2013. But such is the life of the underbelly that is the Southeastern Conference as it is indeed difficult to keep up with the Joneses. However hopes springs eternal for Mason and Vandy as the 2016 college football season is set to begin.

Mason has some individual talent to work with this year in Nashville, but I doubt it will enough to make Vanderbilt respectable. Junior running back Ralph Webb is the heart and soul of the Commodores offense, while junior linebacker Zach Cunningham and junior defensive back Oren Burks have the potential to be two of the better players within the Southeastern Conference. But all of that won’t be enough to help the Commodores in the win column as the collective talent pool simply isn’t there.

West

LSU Tigers 12-1 (7-1)

In 11 years as the head football coach of the LSU Tigers, all Les Miles has done is win. Miles has compiled a record of 112-32 which includes a pair of Southeastern Conference Championships along with a national title. But what has hurt Miles is that his Tigers are 0-5 in their last five contests against the Alabama Crimson Tide which almost led to his departure last year. However cooler heads were able to prevail in Baton Rogue as Miles has been retained, and rightfully so being that he has a football team here in 2016 that is not only capable of winning the SEC, but the national title as well.

Under Miles, the Bayou Bengals get off of the bus running the football and you can expect more of the same this year. Junior running back Leonard Fournette has been as good as advertised in his first two years at LSU, and you will definitely hear his name in conversations to win the Heisman Trophy as he has the potential to rush for 2,000 yards this season.

Brandon Harris

Junior quarterback Brandon Harris has taken his lumps over the last two years, but if he is able to get on the same page with senior wide receiver Travin Dural and junior wide receiver Malachi Dupre to compliment the running ability of Fournette, the LSU offense has the potential to be very special this fall.

Dave Aranda is entering his first year as LSU’s defensive coordinator and he definitely has some talent to work with in Death Valley. Senior middle linebacker Kendell Beckwith will tackle anything that moves while senior defensive end Lewis Neal is one of the best edge rushers in the Southeastern Conference. And junior strong safety Jamal Adams is a ball-hawking player that can change the landscape of a game with his range and nose for the football.

I don’t see Louisiana State being intimidated by the fact that they’ll open their season at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin when they tango with the Wisconsin Badgers of the Big Ten Conference, while things are shaping up for them to run the table in the Southeastern Conference.

Alabama Crimson Tide 10-2 (6-2)

Nick Saban

Since Nick Saban became the head football coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide in 2007, he has done what most people said that he wouldn’t do which was to build a juggernaut in the toughest football conference in the United States. Since arriving in Tuscaloosa, Saban is 100-18 which includes five national titles and it has made life extremely difficult for every other program within the Southeastern Conference as they have tried to keep up with the Tide. The Tide head into the 2016 college football season as the defending national champions and this is a program that knows how to deal with the high expectations, along with the fact that everyone will be gunning for them.

Over the past two years, quarterback Cooper Bateman has gotten brief doses of being the guy at Alabama, but in his junior year he no longer has to look over his shoulder. The main thing for Bateman will be to not to try doing everything by himself and instead relying on the Alabama machine. The Crimson Tide are going to miss the production of running back Derrick Henry as he won the Heisman Trophy last year as sophomore running back Damien Harris will look to become the next great tailback for ‘Bama. Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will look for sophomore wide receiver Calvin Ridley and senior tight end O.J. Howard to continue improving their productivity which would definitely benefit Bateman, while there is plenty of experience on the Crimson Tide offensive line which is led by junior offensive tackle Cam Robinson and senior guard Alphonse Taylor.

Defensively the Tide lost plenty of talent to the National Football League, but as Saban is one of the best recruiters in the nation, there is always somebody in Tuscaloosa that is waiting for their respective opportunity. Senior strong safety Eddie Jackson led Alabama in interceptions last year with 6, while senior outside linebacker Reuben Foster returns to school after being the team’s second leading tackler in 2015 with 73. But Alabama will still be able to rush the passer with the likes of defensive ends Jonathan Allen and Tim Williams returning for their senior seasons. The duo of Allen and Williams combined for 22.5 sacks in 2015, and they should once again be menaces to quarterbacks in the Southeastern Conference.

Make no mistake about it that Saban doesn’t duck any of the top teams in the nation and this college football campaign won’t be any different as Alabama will make the trek to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas to clash with the USC Trojans of the Pac-12 Conference to kick off their defense of the national title on September 3. But road life in the Southeastern Conference won’t be easy for Alabama as they’ll travel to face the Ole Miss Rebels, Tennessee Volunteers, Arkansas Razorbacks, and LSU Tigers.

Ole Miss Rebels 9-3 (6-2)

Hugh Freeze

Hugh Freeze has completed four years as the head football coach of the Mississippi Rebels and in each year in Oxford, his win total has increased. Ole Miss coming off of their first 10-win season since 2003, and their first Sugar Bowl victory since 1970. Freeze has gotten things turned around as the 2016 National Football League Draft saw three of his players selected in the first round, while the Rebels were also able to secure a road victory over the Alabama Crimson Tide which was their only defeat en route to claiming the national championship. And as the Rebels have made tremendous strides in the last few years, the next step for them is to win the Southeastern Conference Championship for the first time since 1963. But will 2016 be the charm?

Senior quarterback Chad Kelly is looking to finish his collegiate career with a bang after he threw for 31 touchdowns in 2015, but he will miss the contributions of wide receiver Laquon Treadwell who is now the National Football League. There is plenty of returning talent on the defensive side of the football which includes the likes of junior defensive end Marquis Haynes, junior outside linebacker DeMarquis Gates, and senior cornerback Tony Bridges who all have the potential to be All-SEC performers.

Ole Miss no longer has to search for respect as they are getting it around the country. But that won’t stop the Rebels from facing the Florida State Seminoles from the Atlantic Coast Conference in Orlando, Florida to begin their season on Labor Day. The Rebels will definitely have to buckle their chin straps on September 17 when they welcome the Crimson Tide to Oxford as they will be seeking their third consecutive victory over the defending national champions. And road games against the Arkansas Razorbacks, LSU Tigers, and Texas A&M Aggies will definitely test how far that Freeze has brought his program.

Texas A&M Aggies 9-3 (5-3)

Kevin Sumlin

In Kevin Sumlin’s four years as the head football coach of the Texas A&M Aggies, he has compiled a record of 36-16, but that hasn’t kept him from avoiding the hot seat in College Station. After the Aggies won 11 games in 2012, they have been unable to replicate that success. And as the powers that be at A&M believe that their program is good enough to win the Southeastern Conference, it has put Sumlin in a bind.

One thing that has hurt the Aggies over the past two years is their inconsistency at quarterback as it has been a revolving door at College Station. But here in 2016, the Aggies appear ready to commit to senior quarterback Trevor Knight who transferred there after being a part of the Oklahoma Sooners program. Knight’s time at Oklahoma included leading the Sooners to an upset victory over the Alabama Crimson Tide in the 2014 Sugar Bowl. And the main thing that Knight will be able to provide the Aggies with is stability and leadership at the quarterback position which is something that they have lacked in each of the last two years.

Make no mistake about it that Texas A&M can run the football, but there is still the threat of the big play in the passing game. Sophomore wide receiver Christian Kirk is looking to add to his resume after a sparkling freshman season in which he tallied 80 receptions for 1,009 years. But the Aggies big home run hitter at wide receiver is junior Ricky Seals-Jones. At 6’5″, 235 lbs., Seals-Jones has the size that the pro scouts like; now it is just a matter of him putting it together for a full season.

Myles Garrett

Defensively the Aggies do have play makers, but they need to be more consistent. In 2015, A&M defensive backs made too many tackles as free safety Armani Watts led the team in tackles with 126. Junior defensive end Myles Garrett is arguably the best defensive player in the nation as he could be the first overall pick of the 2017 National Football League Draft. But the Aggies must find a way to become more consistent under defensive coordinator John Chavis which includes them getting off of the field on third down.

If A&M is going to be one of the better teams in the nation in 2016, they will have to earn it as their schedule isn’t filled with that many soft spots. The Aggies will begin the college football season by hosting the UCLA Bruins of the Pac-12 Conference, while having conference road games against the Auburn Tigers, Alabama, and the Mississippi State Bulldogs, along with finishing the regular season at home against the LSU Tigers.

Auburn Tigers 7-5 (4-4)

Gus Malzahn

After Auburn Tigers head football coach Gus Malzahn led his team to the Bowl Championship Series Title Game in 2013, it has been a rough go for him. In that year Auburn won 12 games en route to winning the Southeastern Conference Championship while they’ve combined to win 15 over the last two years. The competition is always hot and heavy in the SEC West. And as the Tigers don’t want to get caught up in the wash there, their fans are hoping to not avoid a repeat of when this program took a brief nose dive after winning the national title in 2010.

Under Malzahn, Auburn incorporates an uptempo offense that is predicated on solid production from the quarterback and a quality ground game. The Tigers were unable to get either in 2015 which has led to a three-man competition to be the team’s starting quarterback between JUCO transfer John Franklin III, senior Jeremy Johnson, and sophomore Sean White. Neither White or Johnson were as productive as Auburn was envisioning in 2015, and if the Tigers are unable to find the guy at quarterback, they will once be fighting an uphill battle.

The Tigers also need to get more out of their running game as so much of Malzahn’s offense is predicated by what they are able to get accomplished in their running game. There will be plenty of experience on Auburn’s offensive line as they have a pair of seniors in the starting lineup which includes left tackle Robert Leff, and three juniors.

Last year Auburn’s defense was attempting to get a feel for things under defensive coordinator Will Muschamp. But being that Muschamp was looking to get back to being a head coach sooner rather than later, you knew that he wouldn’t be there for long. After one year at Auburn, Muschamp agreed to become the head football coach of the South Carolina Gamecocks which has paved the way for Kevin Steele to become the Tigers new defensive coordinator.

This isn’t Steele’s first go round in the Southeast Conference as a defensive coordinator as he previously worked with the Alabama Crimson Tide and LSU Tigers. And now Steele will be charged with getting this Auburn unit back to the top of the SEC.

Last year as a freshman, defensive back Carlton Davis led the team in interceptions with 3, but Auburn lost its top five leading tacklers from 2015 which will leave a very huge void.

Auburn’s schedule won’t be an easy one as they’ll begin by taking on the Clemson Tigers of the Atlantic Coast Conference, along with road games against the Mississippi Rebels, Georgia Bulldogs, and Alabama.

Mississippi State Bulldogs 7-5 (4-4)

Dan Mullen

In Dan Mullen’s seven years as the head football coach of the Mississippi State Bulldogs, he has shown that he can hang with the best that the Southeastern Conference has to offer. The Bulldogs call the SEC West home and in each of the last six years, they have gone to a bowl game which is by far the longest stretch in the history of the program. And now as the 2016 college football season is set to begin, the Bulldogs are seeking to win at least 9 games for the third consecutive year which would be the first time in school history that it occurred.

It won’t be as easy for Mississippi State to rack up the victories as quarterback Dak Prescott who did everything for this team over the past few years has graduated. Last year as a freshman, quarterback Nick Fitzgerald got some brief time under center, but now he is expected to be the guy. At 6’5″, 227 lbs., Fitzgerald is a very imposing figure that can make life difficult for defenses in the Southeastern Conference once it all comes together for him.

Last year saw the Bulldogs get away from the running game that Mullen build his initial success upon and it will once again need to be a factor in 2016 for them to be in contention. Expect senior running back Brandon Holloway to get his chance to be the feature back in Starkville, but after carrying the football just 92 times last year, will he be up for the increased workload? However led by senior center Jamaal Clayborn, the Bulldogs do have three upperclassmen on the offensive line which should help out the inexperienced quarterback.

Richie Brown

Mississippi State’s defense has the potential to be very stout with six returning starters, which includes six of their top seven tacklers from 2015. Senior middle linebacker Richie Brown could be a first-team All-SEC member, while sophomore strong safety Brandon Bryant has shown that he has range in the secondary.

The road will define Mississippi State here in 2016 as they’ll travel to face the LSU Tigers, Alabama Crimson Tide, and Mississippi Rebels in three contests that will help to the shape the title picture in the Western Division of the Southeastern Conference.

 

 

Arkansas Razorbacks 7-5 (4-4)

In 2015, the Arkansas Razorbacks were unable to live up to the lofty expectations that were thrust on them as they were done in by the injury bug. But the Razorbacks were still a team that opponents in the Southeastern Conference were not excited to play against as they were the most physical team in the conference. During Bret Bielema’s time as a college coach which included a seven-year stretch with the Wisconsin Badgers where he compiled a record of 68-24, his teams have been known for their physicality on both sides of the football. Now as Bielema is set to begin his fourth year with the Hogs, he is starting to get his kind of football players to come to Fayetteville as he has now established himself in that region of the country.

After Brandon Allen spent that last four years as the Razorbacks starting quarterback which led to him being drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars, he has now made way for another member of his family at Arkansas. Junior quarterback Austin Allen is Brandon’s younger brother and now he gets his chance to show the Southeastern Conference what he can do under center. But the Hogs will have to replace plenty of talent in the running game as running back Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams are now in the National Football League. And after spending that last three years as a backup to Williams and Collins, senior running back Kody Walker will get his opportunity to be the feature back in Bielema’s power running attack.

At times in 2015, the Razorbacks defense took it on the chin as they surrendered 45 points or more in a game three times, but with nine starters returning on that side of the football, there is some optimism. Senior middle linebacker Brooks Ellis is the leader of the Hogs defense and he will tackle anything that moves, while sophomore outside linebacker sophomore Dre Greenlaw is his tag-team partner.

The Hogs might not be the team that will win the Western Division of the Southeast Conference in 2016, but they will be a squad that nobody wants to tango with.

SEC Championship Game: LSU vs. Tennessee

Conference Champion: LSU

Coach of the Year: Butch Jones-Tennessee

Offensive Player of the Year: Leonard Fournette-Running Back-LSU

Defensive Player of the Year: Jaylen Reeves-Maybin-Outside Linebacker-Tennessee

Sources: Nationalchamps.net, Ourlads.com, Sports-reference.com

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